Malicious Campaign Undermining Media Freedom
The malicious campaign seeking to close down Geo and the manner in which pressure is being brought to bear to close down the channel should be responded by unity among media ranks and de-escalation of the situation to protect media freedom and reduce risks for journalists.
Irrespective of what one or anyone else might think about Geo’s editorial judgement, instigating people to come out on the street following charges of blasphemy is an extremely dangerous trend.
The environment of fear that has been created is making the lives of journalists working for Geo extremely vulnerable. They are being intimidated and a large number of them have faced attacks. This trend is likely to escalate if the temperature is allowed to rise and it has the potential to spin out of control.
Divisions among the media ranks do not augur well for the hard-won freedom that the media has. It is regrettable that competitive media houses are adding fuel to the fire, without realizing what they are being complicit in or what a dangerous precedent they are setting and that the same fire can engulf them too. It is in no one’s interest to unleash forces that are neither accountable nor answerable to anyone.
One wonders as to how cable operators have illegally banned Geo without instructions from Pakistan Electronic Media Regularity Authority (PEMRA) and expects that the authorities would investigate this matter, if they have not done so already, and punish those acting out of bounds.
The Nawaz Sharif Government should take all necessary steps to deescalate the situation, and put an end to this malicious campaign and intimidation of journalists so as to protect media freedom from taking any further blows.
Since no less than the premier intelligence agency of the country — the ISI — has charged the Geo network with these serious allegations, it is now the agency’s responsibility to bring all the required material against Jang and Geo in the court of law and get them banned, Ansar Abbasi writes.
The ISI, in its petition filed with Pemra against Geo, charged, “Geo network has a history of acting illegally in furtherance of anti-Pakistan agenda. If required, material can be provided to the regulator.”
Why ‘if required’? It must be done because as per the claim of the ISI it involves the “furtherance of anti-Pakistan agenda”.
If the ISI is so sure about the anti-Pakistan agenda of Geo and has all the material to prove its case, suppressing such material and not doing anything against Geo and Jang Group is like hurting the national interest.
The ISI should not wait for a call from Pemra. One is really astonished why the ISI has not provided the material showing that Geo-Jang is anti-Pakistan to the present government or the previous governments earlier.
Ironically, Imran Khan, the PTI chairman, leveled similar allegations in a public meeting on Friday. He has given credence to the ISI allegations. Only a few months back when Khan was provided “material” against Geo by a TV anchor in a live show, Khan was formally offered by the Geo management to get all these allegations probed by a committee of his choice and then decide if these allegations had any truth.
Asad Umar, a senior PTI senior, was also in the knowledge of this offer from Geo but despite the lapse of over two months, no probe has been conducted by the PTI leader.
I have raised these issues with the Geo-Jang management quite a few times and always found them confidently dismissing these charges. Instead, they say that the Jang-Geo management has already approached the court of law against such allegations. Here is a chance for the PTI leader, the ISI and anyone else who has any such material against Geo and Jang group to prove these allegations before the court of law. It would not only be a great service to Pakistan but a special favour to the employees, including me who think otherwise.
Last year when some of the allegations against Geo-Jang Group made headlines with respect to the Media Commission’s report, the Supreme Court sought details from Pemra, which had apologised to the Supreme Court over the statement regarding Geo TV’s awareness campaigns, including ‘Aman Ki Asha’ and ‘Zara Sochiye’.
A three-member bench of the apex court, headed by the then Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry and comprising Justice Jawad S Khawaja and Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed, was hearing the case regarding a Pemra official’s statement that ‘Aman Ki Asha’ and ‘Zara Sochiye’ were foreign funded programs.
Counsel for Pemra Zulfiqar Maluka had submitted a written apology before the bench and stated that Pemra apologised over its statement regarding members of media commission as they were respectful. The then Chief Justice had remarked that it was the non-serious attitude of the Pemra officials, as they should behave in a responsible manner.
Hamid Mir and Absar Alam, the petitioners in the case, had told the SC that they did not seek an apology from Pemra. Instead, they said they wanted Pemra to present evidence to prove its allegations.
These serious allegations are hurled time and again but there has been no probe as yet. As it has not been done earlier, the ISI and the PTI should get it done now for the sake of Pakistan.
In the bizarre, whiplash-inducing fallout of the Hamid Mir shooting, an alarming new twist has occurred: the Ministry of Defence — really, the army/ISI leadership — has petitioned Pemra to cancel the TV licence of Geo News while also calling for action against the Jang group’s flagship newspapers under the defamation and press laws of the country. Cloaked in indignation, outrage and outright fury at the allegedly scurrilous coverage of the ISI, the army’s move — and the government’s acquiescence — is deeply troubling because it takes aim at the existence of an independent and free media. Certain basic issues need to be reiterated first. To begin with, Hamid Mir was shot in a targeted attack because of his work as a prominent journalist — and there seems to be little to no concern any longer about who may have been behind the attack and why. Next, the wildly emotional, over-the-top and accusatory coverage by Geo News after the attack on Mr Mir was clearly misguided and far from the best practices of a responsible media.
Yet, for all the missteps and violations of responsible conduct by the Jang group, the army itself seeking to shut down the country’s largest media house because of direct allegations against ISI chief Gen Zahirul Islam is a step too far — and ought to unite the media and the public against this step. For decades, anti-democratic and authoritarian elements have kept the public from choosing who it wants to lead the country and muzzled the media from holding the state to account for its deeds and misdeeds. Now, when a transition is under way and democratic continuity is on its way to becoming irreversible, there is more of a need than ever to have an independent and free media that can operate outside the still-present shadow of anti-democratic forces. The ISI and the army leadership may be rightly aggrieved, but seeking the cancellation of a media group’s TV licence is also a hostile move that can have a chilling effect on the media far beyond just the Jang group — even if Pemra in the end only slaps the group with a fine.
There is though another sad spectacle playing out in the midst of this clash between the state and media: the media at war with itself.
Fuelled seemingly by ego, old and new rivalries and, surely, commercial interests, the electronic media has cannibalised itself in recent days. It has been unseemly and worse.
With several media groups falling over themselves to denounce each other while simultaneously swearing fealty to the ISI and the army, the core journalistic mission of informing the public and holding the state to account has all but been forgotten. It is time for representative bodies of print and electronic media to come together to defuse tensions and lay down the rules of ethical journalism.
ISI COMPLAINT TO PEMRA: Media house under ISI attack
An application from the Ministry of Defence has been submitted to the country’s media regulator under Sections 33 and 36 of the PEMRA Ordinance, 2002. This submission followed the approval of the Pakistani Minister of Defence, Khawaja Muhammad Asif.
The application seeks legal action against Geo TV management for framing allegations against the ISI and its head, Director General Lieutenant General Zaheerul Islam. According to a statement issued by the Ministry of Defence, the ministry has provided PEMRA with evidence indicating the media group’s involvement in tarnishing the image of the intelligence agency. The statement promises action against the channel’s editorial and management team. “All those who are involved in the mala fide broadcast, riddled with baseless allegations, will be taken to task,” reads the statement.
Since the attack, Geo TV has also broadcast the image of General Islam as an accused. This has been held by the military establishment to be an insult to the country. The Director General of the Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) has warned that anyone blaming the institution (army) will be subject to strong action.
After witnessing strident reactions of journalist organisations and media houses on the role of the ISI in the attack on Mir, the military establishment has come out in full support of the intelligence agency and its chief, terming the media response as an attack on country and its sacred institution. Army officials have been contacting different media houses and pressuring them to support the army and its different institutions, particularly the ISI. As a part of this campaign, retired servicemen have been appearing on different talk shows, where they make open threats that if anyone maligns the armed forces or their intelligence agencies they will be dealt with “properly”.
The Chief of Army Staff, General Raheel Sharif, has recently visited ISI headquarters, where General Islam has welcomed him and been briefed about the “malicious campaign” from a section of the media against ISI. General Raheel has extended solidarity with the ISI, stating that such designs can be handled properly and that legal action must be taken against the particular media house.
The attack on Mir has generated a big debate about the working of intelligence agencies in Pakistan and the army has felt a sense of devaluation and embarrassment at being treated at par with an ordinary journalist. The debate has also traversed other areas embarrassing to the military and intelligence. These include involvement of intelligence agencies in the murder of political activists, in operations in Balochistan, in disappearances, and in extrajudicial killings. To stop debate on such sticky issues, the army has decided to try and ban Geo TV by cancelling its license.
PEMRA, which the Defence Ministry has approached to take action against GEO TV, is the regulatory body assigned to monitor broadcasts. PEMRA is an incomplete organisation; it does not have a chairperson and is also missing other executive officers presently. It is operating with three officers, and its acting chairperson is a retired police officer. It will be easy for the ISI to obtain a decision in its favour from such a body.
The Defence Ministry also intends to stop Geo TV and Mir’s family members from filing a criminal case against the ISI chief. No police complaint has yet been filed by Mir’s family members or by Geo TV. If the name of ISI chief ends up in a police FIR he will have to go through a police investigation and may also have to resign from his position, something which will not be tolerated by the army.
In addition, it is important to note that Pakistani intelligence agencies are not formed under any law. Being involved in such a case will create legal problem for the ISI, and bring it to a legal limelight not in its opaque interests.
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has shown concern over the ISI Directorate’s actions against Geo Television. CPJ has stated in its complaint to PEMRA that the ISI has accused Geo’s parent company, Independent Media Corporation, of conducting a “false and scandalous campaign undermining the integrity and tarnishing the image of state institution (ISI) and its officers.”
“We call on the Pemra not to act on this spurious complaint, and we call on Pakistan’s security services to recognise the critical role of the media and exercise tolerance and maturity,” Bob Dietz, CPJ’s Asia programme coordinator has stated. “The ISI is free to rebut allegations in the media but should not try to censor coverage”, CPJ has stated.
The Defence Ministry only wishes to punish the media as a whole in the guise of national security. The Ministry and PEMRA must desist from action prompted by organisations which do not have any role other than that of protecting the country. If Geo TV’s license were to be revoked for airing opinion it will be tantamount to direct interference of the armed forces and its intelligence agencies in the freedom of press and expression.
JANG GROUP RESPONDS TO ISI ALLEGATIONS
The Jang Group is again the target of unfounded, biased and malicious allegations. Whether there is a democratic government or a dictatorship in power, they have been antagonistic to the independent policies of the Jang and Geo Group. There are also private organisations in Pakistan which have targeted the biggest media group of the country.
In an attempt to force the Jang Group to change its independent policy, these vested interests have sometimes accused us of tax evasion, defaulting on bank loans and siphoning-off the newsprint quota for profit. Some have even branded the Group as an American, Indian and Jewish agent, while others have accused us of taking money from India and the United States so that we toe the line of these countries. However, all these charges remained merely allegations, which have already been challenged in the courts of law. We have paid the price of our independent media policy. In the past all Geo Television Network channels were pulled off the air because we refused to submit to the whims of a dictator. Government advertisements for our television and newspapers were stopped and a number of other tactics were also used to damage this institution. So far the Group has suffered accumulative losses of at least eight billion rupees.
In the most recent attempt to damage the Group, certain private media houses were used to level allegations against Jang and Geo. ARY recently has aired a string of talk shows against Jang-Geo in which wild allegations, mostly old and discredited, were repeated.
The Hindustan Times story and alleged links with Indian intelligence
A Hindustan Times report, which alleged that an Indian citizen Dawood Ibrahim is establishing a project with the help of Pakistan’s ISI in the country, served as the basis of these shows. Among other allegations, this private channel in its programmes, also accused Jang and Geo of planting this story in the Hindustan Times in league with the Indian intelligence.
Those who levelled these and other allegations include a big player of the Karachi Stock Exchange (KSE), Aqeel Karim Dhedhi, former chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP) Muhammad Ali, and Mubashir Luqman, an anchorperson of that private channel, who owns an airplane and a luxurious car.
Mubashar Luqman’s often unbecoming conduct remains a subject of debate among journalists. Apart from this cast of characters, a journalist, who was a former employee of the Jang Group and a self-proclaimed spokesperson of the Pakistani intelligence agencies — known for his “laaltopi” – are the other two persons indulging in persistent nefarious propaganda against the Group.
Mubashar Luqman is being used for wicked propaganda against the Jang Group and Geo – has a notorious reputation. In the past, he conducted a controversial interview in which he spoke against the Supreme Court judges in a derogatory fashion. This interview led to his sacking but he has returned with an agenda against Jang and Geo.
Serious and spurious allegations have been levelled against the Jang Group and its management on the basis of a fake email regarding the Hindustan Times story of Sept. 29. The Jang Group has been viciously accused of having close ties with Indian intelligence agencies. An impression was created that this email was sent by the Hindustan Times. This was subsequently found to be blatantly false.
Aqeel Karim Dhedhi, known for his involvement in a number of financial scandals, is among the people involved in the smear campaign against Jang and Geo.
When the Supreme Court took notice of Dhedhi’s financial scandals, many government officials spoke up and gave details of his manipulation of the stock market.He was also implicated in the OGRA scandal.
Since then, all newspapers, including publications of the Jang Group have been carrying reports of Dhedhi’s involvement in insider-trading in the Sui Southern Gas Company and the Sui Northern Gas Company. Billions of rupees of public money were looted by Dhedhi and his cohorts. Dhedhi is a defaulter of 1.6 billion rupees of the PTA according to unimpeachable sources.
On March 11, 2013 the Islamabad High Court rejected Dhedhi’s appeal and placed his name on the exit control list. News reports against Dhedhi have also been carried by reputed foreign media outlets including the British newspaper The Independent, the Wall Street Journal and the world’s leading international news service, Reuters.
People are aware that the Jang Group is known for investigative journalism in which its performance is unmatched. That is why most stories which expose corruption and wrongdoings in Pakistan are first published in Jang and the News. As per our journalistic norms, we ensure that all versions of the story are covered.
The third person involved in making these allegations is a journalist, who had previously worked for Jang. After leaving Jang, he joined ARY. Recently, this journalist landed in another media group, which he has now left. The latest reports about him say that he may join or is about to join a third organization. It appears that an unidentified person sent this journalist a fake email, which then became the basis of that anchorperson’s program. It needs to be mentioned that the program was aired in undignified haste and was not part of the regular schedule. This points to a conspiracy.
The entire episode becomes more intriguing as that senior journalist posted the fake email on the social media without verification. He forwarded this fake email despite knowing that a major chunk of social media platforms remain notorious around the world for fake photographs and videos and devious, unsubstantiated reports. Anyone can misuse the social media by posting fake content there including emails. Every experienced journalist knows that such emails have no credibility, yet he posted it on the social media.
ARY, Mubashar Luqman and this senior journalist committed the crime of defaming a reputed and respected media organization and its management.
When the Jang Group contacted Sanjoy Narayan – Editor-in-Chief of The Hindustan Times – on telephone and by email, he termed this email ridiculous and bogus. He categorically denied that the Hindustan Times had conducted any so-called inquiry mentioned in this fake email, which was used for propaganda against the management of the Jang-Geo Group and Mr. Jahangir Siddiqui, a reputed businessman.
It is also worth considering whether Hindustan Times accepted that its Sept. 29 story was false or it just issued a customary clarification.
In the world of journalism, what meaning should be taken from this clarification? Why did the channel, which levelled these allegations, not do a follow-up story? This story is still available on the Hindustan Times website. After the clarification, why wasn’t it removed?
Aman Ki Asha
A few months ago, Mubashar Luqman and the person donning the “laaltopi” twisted the Media Commission report and accused the Jang-Geo Group of taking money from India and a Norwegian NGO for Aman Ki Asha.
They also alleged that these allegations were made by PEMRA officials in front of the Media Commission. But when the issue was taken up by the Supreme Court, the PEMRA officials first verbally, and then in writing deposed under oath that they had not given any such statement before the Media Commission. The Supreme Court expressed its displeasure on this and directed PEMRA officials to submit a written apology and delete allegations against Jang-Geo from the Media Commission report.
But that television channel, its anchorperson and the man with the “laaltopi” never apologized and continued with their propaganda campaign. It is pertinent to mention that this anchorperson indulged in anti Jang-Geo propaganda in violation of court orders and inspite of the registration of two criminal cases against him. He has been served with arrest warrants because his programmes are in violation of the court orders.
Geo never aired any programme against Dhedhi or the former SECP Chairman Muhammad Ali and hardly carried any news about them. Dhedhi and Ali maintain that the court restrained the Jang Group from carrying any news about them. The anchorperson and the “laaltopi” man say that the court prohibited any comments on Aman Ki Asha.
Our submission is that the court never stopped anyone from expressing the truth. However, it barred calling someone an American or Indian agent without evidence or wrongly charging anyone for illegally accepting money from a foreign country. It needs to be mentioned that our newspapers carry the largest number of anti-India and anti-US news reports and columns.We believe that our disputes with India, including Kashmir, water-sharing issues and the Siachen Glacier, should be settled through talks at any cost. We passionately love our country and never hesitate from offering sacrifices for its prosperity and security.
JS and HSBC Bank
Mr. Jahangir Siddiqui was not allowed to acquire the HSBC Bank because of a pending inquiry against on of its affiliate companies, Azgard 9 (which does not, in fact, own the JS Bank) at the SECP for many years. The Jang management asked the SECP to do justice while conducting the inquiry and also provide an opportunity to Azgard 9 to present its case. But the SECP delivered a verdict without hearing the accused, depriving the JS Bank of a chance to acquire the HSBC, which would have been beneficial for Pakistan’s economy.
In the meantime, the print media, including Jang Group of Newspapers, carried reports relating to the Supreme Court and NAB cases in which these two gentlemen – Dhedhi and Mohammad Ali – were involved. The two kept expressing their annoyance at these reports. This displeasure contributed to the adverse decision against Mr. Jahangir Siddiqui.He was not heard. Under the law an inquiry should have been conducted in which the JS Group should also have also been invited to state their case.
The Jang Group spokesperson said that these two at that time revealed that they were given orders from the top government functionaries that this work should not be done because JS Bank refused a loan to some senior members of the former ruling party. Dhedhi and former SECP chairman said that they were directed not to do this work until Anwar Majeed gave them a go ahead. There is not one, but several respected and reliable witnesses who can verify this. These witnesses will come forward when the time comes.
The Jang Group spokesperson said that obstructing legitimate work of people through such inquiries, which go on for years, remain part of the tactics of certain forces and influential people. This denies law-abiding citizens and their businesses of their legitimate rights. It also inflicts on them severe mental torture and results in massive financial losses for them.
The Jang Group Management only asked for justice for Mr. Jahangir Siddiqui. It is a normal practice in societies all over the world that when someone faces injustice, personal contacts are used to approach concerned officials/people to seek justice. Even if someone other than Mr. Jahangir Siddiqui had asked for assistance, the Jang Group management would have made a request – be it to a government official or a private organization – to kindly look into the issue.
The Jang Group Management raised the issue of injustices being done to Mr. Jahangir Siddiqui with the officials of the previous government as well as the present one. The Management asked that a high-level committee should be set up to review the matter. It was obvious that Aqeel Kareem Dhedhi, being Jahangir Siddiqui’s competitor, was a hurdle in this.
It remains an open secret in the market that the former SECP Chairman, M. Ali, was a close aide of former KSE chairman Dhedhi. According to witnesses, Ali was made SECP Chairman on Dhedhi’s recommendation.
Another false allegation was made that 200 Indian movies were purchased by the Jang Group and 100 billion rupees transferred to India using “hundi”.The Group has also been accused of running Indian movies on fake censor certificates. The Jang Group spokesperson denied these allegations and said that all the movie purchases were done legally and the Censor Board had issued certificates only after their diligent review. The surprising thing is that the entire Pakistan’s cinema market is not even three percent of the said amount.
ZS Education and MKRF
Mubashar Luqman tried to imply that that the foreign countries and governments give money to Jang Group and its CSR initiative – the MKR Foundation. He has given Lord Nazeer’s reference, alleging that the British government gave 20 million pounds to the MKRF to promote education, but not a single school had been built and the whole amount was diverted to Jang and Geo for advertisements.The anchorperson alleged that this is equivalent to money laundering! The money was not meant for building schools.
Mubashar Luqman also lied about the question asked by Lord Nazeer and the answers given by the British minister in this regard. The British minister said in the House of Lords that 950 thousand pounds sterling were given to the MKRF last year whereas the anchorperson wrongly claimed that it received 20 million pounds sterling. Actually, this funding was approved to run a public awareness drive for the promotion of education. Several other Non-Government Organisations (NGOs) also received money from this amount and the MKRF remains one of them.
Out of this amount, the MKRF had to spend 6.9 million pounds in three years. Advertisements promoting education were also run on the state-run Pakistan Television, state-run Radio Pakistan, the ISPR’s FM-96 and private channels KTN, APNA and Waseb as well as other newspapers. Part of this funding was also given to another Pakistani NGO, which ran its advertisement campaign on two other private television channels.
All the MKR Foundation expenses are audited by an internationally reputed company. The audit report is also sent to the donors. Such funding is given after thorough investigations and is being systematically monitored.
The US Department of Justice invited applications for funding worth three million dollars for judicial reforms. Like many other NGOs, the MKRF also prepared its proposal, but that private television channel and its anchorperson and the English and Urdu-language newspapers of another media group, without even reading it, alleged that the MKRF wants American funding to undermine the independence of the judiciary. We commit that anyone who actually reads the proposal will not reach the same conclusion. (Note: Getting such funding for public advocacy remains under the ambit of the Pakistani laws. Such international funds are available for developing and backward countries. The Pakistani government as well as NGOs gets such funding. In fact, for most NGOs it is impossible to carry on their operations without such funding.)
Is the Pakistani Army also part of a conspiracy against sovereignty of the country when it accepts military aid from the USA ($26 billion since 1948, $17 billion since 2002)? Is the Pakistan Government also part of a Zionist conspiracy because it accepts billions of dollars of donor funds for advocacy of development projects? Is the Government of Punjab part of an unpatriotic agenda for the implementation of education reform and development of schools in the province?
It must be clarified that the Jang and Geo Group never took any money for the sensitive campaigns on the Hudood Ordinance, the Lawyers Movement or Aman Ki Asha. Whenever any funds are taken, the Group has taken the government and sensitive institutions into confidence and has openly declared the source of the funding.
Jang/Geo group has not taken any funds from the US to work against Hudood Ordinance
The Jang/Geo group or any of its affiliated companies have not asked for or received funding for anything related to the Hudood Ordinance. GEO believes that Zia’s Hudood Ordinance, passed by a diktat, is not the same as Hadood-Allah.
The Group provided a platform for debate which allowed religious scholars from all schools of thought to discuss man made flaws which they agreed could be improved so that the law does not equate rape with adultery in the name of Islam.
Most experts concurred that the original Zia ordinance was not 100% reflective of the spirit of Islam.
PCB bidding for Sri Lanka, South Africa series was transparent
Jang/GEO group has been falsely accused of receiving special favours by the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) to acquire rights for the cricket series against Sri Lanka.
The whole process was conducted in an open and transparent manner and was witnessed by both bidders (GEO Super and Ten Sports) and a bid committee comprised of Ehsan Mani as Chairman legal department of PCB, a retired judge, member of BOG, COO, CFO and independent international auditors (Price Waterhouse and Coopers).
Ten Sports won the South Africa series rights through the bidding process and GEO Super won the Sri Lanka series rights due to higher bid amounts. Ten Sports is a 100 percent Indian-owned company and yet no one raised an eyebrow against them or wrote articles one after the other. Due to interim appointments, the Supreme Court has does not allow the PCB to enter into any long-term sale of rights that is why the bidding for the matches was for two series only.
Also the India Pakistan series had not yet been finalized therefore PCB did not want to sell their jewel without the crown and thus opted for short term rights. The insinuation that Jang Group is being tested to behave for six months with the government after which it will be rewarded five year rights is outright slander and insinuates that we would sell out our editorial policy. If Jang/GEO Group was to sell out why wouldn’t it sell out to the previous government which was alleged to have been the bigger deal makers? Why wouldn’t it sell out to a military dictator in his most desperate times? GEO and Jang Group make money by being as independent as possible while others may make money by being dependent of the powers that be, all powers, local or foreign.
Why Jang/Geo remain targets of attacks
People ask why the Jang-Geo remains a target of such attacks. The reason is that the Jang Group is a reputable, reliable and credible media house, which is recognized not just in Pakistan, but around the world. Not just the people of Pakistan, but government officials hold the news printed or transmitted by the group as truthful, credible and authentic. We believe in candid and bold journalism. Whether it is a civil or military government, we try to give real news and expert opinions. We believe in democracy and support the judiciary. Our television channels and newspapers are the most viewed and read in Pakistan and the group is recognized as the most credible media house.
Recently, a retired brigadier alleged in that particular channel, that the Jang Group has become so influential that they could determine government policies. “The fact is that we only consider ourselves as a media institution responsible for disseminating news and opinions”, the spokesman said.
The allegations made against Jang-Geo Group are foolish, ridiculous and laughable. We are looking into the possibility of the involvement of small groups and hidden powers in this conspiracy. It is also possible that those people and organizations, which are weak and need crutches (including some who are defaulters or those which are prepared to go to any extent for personal benefits) may have surrendered in front of these hidden powers.
The hidden hands were deliberately targeting the Jang-Geo Group. This element was trying to damage the reputation of our group through false, unfounded and vicious allegations. “Our spokesperson was not invited to the programme, nor was our version taken while printing the news against us in the newspapers. Why were those leveling allegations against us not going to the Press Council, PEMRA, NAB, tax authorities and courts? Why have they not submitted applications against us there?” he asked.
The Jang Group will not just take that particular TV channel, its anchorperson, the Urdu and English newspapers and all the other people involved in the smear campaign against it to the Pakistani courts, but also take legal against them in Britain and the United States.
Had the allegations been true, the Jang-Geo Group would not have decided to take legal action in the British and US courts, where verdicts are given within months. “Very soon, the people will see what happens to those leveling fabricated and malicious allegations against us.”
Courts favour Jang Group
The anchorperson insinuated that the courts do not take action against the Jang Group. This is because we do not publish any news which is false or baseless. The problem is in the anchorperson’s distorted mindset.
People, driven by revenge and jealousy, are making cheap orchestrated personal attacks against Jang and Geo in the social media. False information is spread about marriages of senior journalists affiliated with the group and doctored pictures and videos are uploaded to defame them.
Even Quranic verses and sayings of the Holy Prophet are being misused to damage our credibility. Similarly efforts are being made to defame Pakistan and Islam. Even the lives of our people are being threatened. “We have decided to challenge this painful and grave situation and will try to get legislation framed for the introduction of Cyber Crime Act. We want to tell the hidden forces and their agents (whether they belong to the media or any other group) to please back off because all these allegations are nothing more than a pack of lies”, said the spokesperson.
It should be kept in mind that any individual or a group can have a principled dispute with the tax regulator. Such disputes are always resolved as per law. But in the past, several press conferences were organized against us, alleging that the Jang Group had not paid taxes to the tune of billions of rupees and defaulted against its loan payments. A few channels repeatedly showed some media persons and anchorpersons who alleged that the Jang Group has not paid billions of rupees in taxes. This is baseless because the Jang Group pays more in taxes compared with the combined taxes paid by rest of the top three media groups. Only Rs. 130 million in sales tax are disputed. The case is being heard in a tribunal and the High Court.
Jang Group is not a bank defaulter and if the allegations are true, then they Governor State Bank of Pakistan, the FBR or Finance Ministry should take action.
During the era of former military ruler Pervez Musharraf, the entire Geo Television network was forcibly shut down for three months and all the government advertisements remained totally barred. “Despite all this financial victimization and the fact that local revenues slumped to zero, not a single employee was laid-off. The group suffered billions of rupees losses, which resulted in tax payment problems,” the spokesperson said.
The tax problem of the Jang Group was created by the former government’s harsh measures against us. Moreover, the Group suffered huge losses under the previous government. We approached courts on the issue of banning of ads for our Group, but not a single hearing has been conducted to-date.
Any dispute between two parties is settled through discussion, and the papers being shown on television by the anchorperson relate to an old dispute. Both the parties went to the court on the issue, and the matter was resolved. Since the matter involved the National Bank of Pakistan, the previous government instructed its administration not to extend any loans to us, and also withdraw any such facility the bank had previously provided. “Similarly, on the issues of income and sales taxes, the Finance Ministry exerted pressure on us and created trouble,” the spokesperson clarified.
GEO owes Rs. 3 billion to PEMRA
The accusation that Jang/Geo owes more than a billion rupees to PEMRA is also completely false and baseless. The PEMRA should immediately take action against the Group if there was any such issue. The anchorperson should approach the court and consult his lawyer. He should also know that the entire electronic media industry has some disagreements with PEMRA, and in this regard the Pakistan Broadcasters Association, which is the representative body of television and radio stations, has already approached the court, and the very channel that the anchorperson is using as a platform is also a party to the issue.
Mubashar Luqman made groundless allegations against the group regarding the Lal Masjid incident. These are nothing but a pack of white lies. The Musharraf government blamed us for the detailed coverage of the standoff. We tried our best for reconciliation as late as a few hours before the Lal Masjid was raided. Kamran Khan and Hamid Mir played an important role in the mediation efforts.
Geo and Jang are Indian/Jewish agents working against Pakistan’s interest
On the one hand, the group is accused of being an Indian and Jewish agent, and at the same time the US blames us for publishing anti-US reports.
Reality exposed: critics’ eyes should open now! Jang Group faced allegations of pro-US, pro-Taliban; spokesman (The News International – June 12, 2011)
Any independent research shows that because of our policy of transparency and balanced coverage everyone including the United States, the Taliban, secular forces and extremists have complaints against us. The group gives space to all schools of thoughts in every faction of society.
The position the Jang Group enjoys has no parallel around the globe. An international institution, which has an outstanding reputation, recently conducted a survey in the cross section of people in Pakistan, which among many questions also asked the people that from which source do they get their world news? A massive 72 percent of the respondents named Geo as their main source of information, while 22 percent said it was from state TV and only four percent said they got their information from other channels.
Moreover, the Pakistani rating companies, international media, media buying houses and advertisement agencies, all of them confirm that Geo TV and Jang Group newspapers remain the most widely viewed and read in the country.
We remain proud of our journalists and all the other team members. It is their hard work and dedication, which has taken us to these heights of success. Whether it is politics, social issues, or general news; whether we are dealing with problems faced by women or issues relating to the youth or any other matter — our team members are given full opportunity as per our policy to sharpen their abilities and participate in the decision-making at various levels. This is the reason that each of our programmes is widely viewed. Actually, our competitors are jealous because they have failed to outperform us. Although there are 80 channels in Pakistan, by the grace of Almighty Allah none has managed to come near us in popularity even in 10 years.
Some media organisations have other business interests. The former rulers were partner of ARY. Their names were linked in the infamous ARY Gold Case. Efforts were made to suppress this case and get a favourable judgment from court. This game was played directed by the Law Ministry, and the NAB friendly prosecutors and accountability courts.A committee, constituted by the Hounourable Court, has submitted a report which is now being considered by the Chief Justice of the Lahore High Court. In this connection, MCB’s owner MianMansha is unfairly criticized without any proof. Similarly, some family members of ARY Group’s owners were doing businesses in Dubai. They defaulted on business transactions and now their entry remains banned in Dubai. Their London-based company was declared bankrupt and the store owned by them hardly did business for two years and had to be closed.
Their sales tax payments worth of tens of millions of rupees were to be made during the tenure of the previous government, but they managed to get concessions. “Even now the sales tax department claims that ARY has to pay sales tax worth tens of millions of rupees, and it is ironic that even then they are leveling allegationsof us being sales tax defaulters.”
In the same way, the Express Group owners did personal business deals worth billions of rupees with important figures of the Pakistan People’s Party. Huge loans were acquired against minimal collateral and not paid back for years. Soon after Musharraf’s takeover, owners of the Express/Lakson Group were arrested, but somehow they managed to get themselves freed and fled the country. Later, they had to return to the country only after NAB contacted Interpol.
They entered into a plea bargain with NAB after admitting their crimes. They gave assurances to repay all installments worth billions of rupees, but even after the passage of nine years the amount has still not been paid. The spokesman said, “It should be noted that when the loan was acquired, itwas not repaid for years and later they did not pay even the promised installments. This shows that they committed illegalities and used that money (loans) to expand their business ventures.”
The Express Group owners bought a luxury boat and a bungalow, where special guests and government officials were invited and entertained with wine and women. He pointed out that renowned journalist, Kamran Khan, had disclosed in one of his news stories that two men – who worked as managers of Sultan Lakhani – lodged an FIR at a police station against their boss, but no action was taken against him as by that time he had been elected a a senator. These two men remained missing for years and still nothing is known about their whereabouts. Some people say Lakson Group owners launched their own newspaper and established a media group to compete against the Jang Group purely out of revenge and jealousy. During the previous PPP-led government, this group managed to get a major portion of government advertisements of Jang Group’s share for four-and-a-half years. The Jang Group spokesperson said that such people – involved in the above mentioned wrongdoings – often enter into compromises with rulers or other hidden forces and vested interests instead of pointing out their misdeeds and illegal acts. Due to their compromises, other media groups are also compelled to strike similar deals instead of presenting the truth.
The Jang Group is the only media institution which tries its best to follow principled journalistic norms and values. When an omission is committed inadvertently, apologies are offered without delay, but principled stances are steadfastly defended. No journalist or anchorperson has ever been directed or advised to give baseless stories or comments against anybody or in favour. This is our stated policy.
The Jang Group has vast experience in the field of journalism and on its basis we can say with surety that anchorperson, who stooped so low will be punished for his deeds. “We will make sure that the case which we are filing in court will help bring to justice the masterminds of this defamation campaign against us.
Had the Sept. 29 story of Hindustan Times been sponsored by us, we would have placed it on Pakistani social media. But this was never done, which is a proof that this episode is baseless. We do not believe insuch negative tactics.
The spokesperson said that the particular TV channel and its anchorperson alleged that the Aman Ki Asha remains a business venture and is aimed at earning money. “But they should themselves realize that one of their own channels – QTV – is aired in India, which earns a lot of money. It is pertinent to mention that when no Pakistani TV channel is allowed to be aired in India, then how come that particular group manages to run its transmissions there. The particular TV channel and its anchorperson also tried to label us traitors by terming a genuine investigative story on AjmalKasab as propaganda. We stand by our story and believe that the truth, no matter how bitter, is more patriotic than a lie, no matter how sweet.”
A large number majority of Express/Lakson Group’s business partnerships are with American and Indian companies. Similarly they have an agreement with an American media outlet, whereby they provide a foreign newspaper (which is owned by Jews), alongwith their local daily newspaper. “We would like to clarify here that we are not against any such business partnerships but are mentioning this only to underline the double standards prevalent. How can they accuse the Jang Group of being pro-American or pro-Indian? Can’t that particular channel, its anchorperson and the hidden hands see these facts? How come there is no mention of all this on the social media?”
They have apprised the country’s government and military leadership that these particular hidden hands are pressurizing people in the Jang Group’s administration for meetings to extract information, while journalists associated with our group are being asked to quit their jobs and join any other media outlets.
We were hopeful that the Honourable Chief Justice of Pakistan should have heard this case suo-moto. “Now we are approaching the apex court ourselves where we will be compelled to reveal how the national interests are being violated and compromised. We will inform the court what these hidden forces are doing in Karachi and the rest of Pakistan. We are reviewing whether to reveal these conspiracies with evidence in a press conference or disclose them before the Supreme Court.”
In Pakistan generally, allegations are made regarding how private institutions seek government blessing for their own benefit. We are thankful that no such charge has ever been made against the Jang/Geo Group. “We are also astonished that such programmes focusing on old issues against the Jang Group and Aman Ki Asha are being aired now. What is the reason that such propaganda is being carried out after Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif came to power? It is being said that this nefarious conspiracy is aimed to sabotaging PM Sharif’s efforts at improving and expanding relations with India.
Is The Battle With The Media Becoming The Military’s Waterloo?
Baseer Naweed and Stewart Sloan
The attempted murder of an anchorperson of a popular media house triggered the open discussion on the role of the ISI in dealing with the freedom of expression and the media as a whole. Indeed, this is not the first occasion that the role of the ISI was brought up as a conspirator in the affairs of the state. However, the involvement of the ISI has always been swept under the carpet on the pretext of national security and potential threats to Pakistan from neighbouring countries. The ISI are portrayed by the government as a professional intelligence organisation, protectors of Islam and the ideological boundaries of Pakistan.
The role of the ISI was discussed the world over when Osama bin Laden (OBL) was killed in a well-orchestrated raid by U.S. Navy SEALs on May 2, 2011, The raid on OBL’s compound in Abbottabad, was launched from Afghanistan. The ISI was exposed in that it had close connections with al Qaeda and the Taliban when they purposely concealed the world’s most wanted man. The United States had direct evidence that the ISI’s former chief, Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, knew of OBL’s presence in Pakistan. At first the military establishment denied that it had any connection with the raid or that it had any part in hiding OBL. However, the excuses and explanations offered by the military establishment and the government did not hold water. As a result of this they took another tack and charged the U.S. for violating, not only the sovereignty of the country but also committing an act of aggression. Once again the ISI was spared and the U.S. was denounced as an enemy of Pakistan and Islam as well.
It has become blatantly evident that the ISI has been involved in the arrest and enforced disappearances of thousands of innocent persons. The family members of disappeared or extrajudicially killed persons have stated and even testified that their loved ones were arrested by the ISI, following which they were disappeared or killed in detention. At the moment there are hundreds of such cases in the higher courts of the country wherein, even the judges have blamed, ‘secret agencies’ (pointing their fingers towards the ISI) for the disappearances. However, in not one hearing has any representative of the ‘secret agencies’ ever appeared in the courts despite several reminders.
Some relevant history
Since the creation of Pakistan it was felt that there was a need for an intelligence agency on the working of the three wings of the armed forces. The Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) was created in 1948 in order to form an exclusive intelligence agency for the three services. Although the Intelligence Bureau (IB) and the Military Intelligence (MI) had been created the year after independence, in the presence of growing complaints by the military concerning the weak performance of the MI in sharing intelligence with the army, navy and air force during the Indo-Pakistani War of 1947 this led to the creation of the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) in 1948.
Interestingly, the ISI was the brainchild of an Australian-born, British Army officer, Major General Robert Cawthome, then Deputy Chief of Staff in the Pakistan Army. Designed to be operated by officers from the three military services, its function was to collect, analyze and assess external intelligence, either military or non-military. Initially, the ISI was not concerned with the collection of domestic intelligence except for that gained in the former N.W.F.P (which is now KPK) and Azad Jammu and Kashmir.
When General Ayub Khan became president in late 1958 he made use of the ISI and MI to monitor opposition politicians in order to sustain military rule in the country. The ISI was reorganised in 1966 after intelligence failures in the Indo-Pakistani War of 1965 and further expanded in 1969 when Khan entrusted the ISI with the responsibility for the collection of internal political intelligence in what was then East Pakistan (Bangladesh). Its role was expanded when it was tasked with performing a similar intelligence gathering operation in Balochistan.
When Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto came to power in the new Pakistan in December, 1971 he was critical of the ISI and gave them the new task of gathering intelligence from Afghanistan. This was during the cold war era when Afghanistan was thought to be a puppet of the USSR. He also gave the ISI the task of spying on the activities of his political opponents. Sadly he was unaware that the ISI had their own agenda and they were instrumental in toppling his government by organising country-wide agitation on the pretext that he was rigging the election. The ISI was also part of the conspiracy which led to his execution by hanging.
When the former Chief of Army Staff, General Zia-ul-Haq seized power on 5 July, 1977, he expanded the ISI once again by making it responsible for the collection of intelligence about the Pakistan Communist Party and particularly Bhutto’s Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP).
The ISI today
Several reports have surfaced recently concerning the alleged connection of the ISI and the military establishment with terrorist organisations that are planning strikes against US and foreign embassies in the East.
In an article which appeared in the South Asia Monitor, Pakistan-backed Indian Mujahideen – down but certainly not out!, by Ajai Sahni, the author makes the assertion that Pakistan’s MI is backing the Indian Mujahideen (IM), which has, “…..been declared by many as one of the most lethal Pakistan-backed Islamist terrorist organisations operating in India……”. It must be noted that in view of the direct connection between Pakistan’s MI and the ISI it is evident that not much happens without the approval of the hierarchy of the ISI.
A further report involved the arrest of a Sri Lankan national alleged to be an ISI agent who was a Pakistani official based in Sri Lankan. The suspect, originally from Kandy was remanded in judicial custody by a Magistrate’s Court in Chennai, India. Zaheer Hussain (37), allegedly linked to a Pakistani terror organisation, was ceased in a joint operation of Central and state police forces. According to reports by Indian intelligence, Hussain has been instructed by a senior official in the Pakistan High commission in Colombo, “….to recruit youths from South India, especially in Tamil Nadu for terror activities…..”. The same intelligence report went on to say that, “…..a person with close links with a Pakistan high commission official in Colombo was involved in head hunting for the ISI….”.
Hussain was remanded in Puzhal prison and charged under IPC 120 B (conspiracy) and 480 C besides sections 16 and 17 of Prevention of Unlawful Activities. The Indian press speaks of Husain’s, “explosive confessional statement”, which was sent to the Indian home ministry, but it can only be left to the imagination as to how such a ‘confession’ was obtained. It has, however, sent shock waves through the country’s anti-terror agencies.
It is widely accepted that the government of Pakistan and the military and intelligence agencies in the form of the ISI are supporting the Pakistani and Afghan al Qaeda networks and Islamic extremist groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba. For some time now there has been a policy of appeasement by the government towards any acts of the two Taliban organisations. No doubt the origin of this policy came from the ISI who want, very much, to be the handlers of these organisations.
The Pakistan Intelligence community also maintains a significant presence in Balochistan. The ISI is responsible for strategic intelligence as well as conducting operations and has a large element in Quetta. The ISI’s Joint Signals Intelligence Bureau (JISB) operates signal intelligence collection stations in Saindak which covers the western border and in Gwadar which covers the shipping lanes of the Gulf of Oman. In addition to the ISI each service has military intelligence assets, collectively known as the MI, which support tactical requirements. The IB is the oldest intelligence entity in Pakistan which traces its heritage back to British India. The IB conducts federal investigations in Balochistan along the lines of the United States, Federal Bureau of Investigation and also supports the military establishment. Finally, there are the special branches of the provincial and local law enforcement that conduct criminal intelligence.
Clearly, Pakistan’s security establishment is unwilling to stop the growing power of the dreadful extremists of the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi while their own ‘death squads’ have the reputation of pursuing and killing insurgents with great efficiency. It seems that as in the past; like the use of the Taliban in the 1990s, that of local militant groups in Kashmir, and that of sectarian groups like the SSP in the 1980s, the security establishment considers the LeJ as an ally in Balochistan with the apparent aim of controlling the unruly province with the help of religious forces that have little in common with the secular orientation of the Baloch rebels and are controlled by ethnic Punjabis like Malik Ishaq. LeJ and their Pakistani allies are believed to have the sympathies if not the active support of the Saudis although there seems to be little doubt about the funds that generously flow to these groups from the Arabian Gulf. These militants are also hostile to the neighbouring Shia Iran due to their religious beliefs. Hazara Shias, a peaceful community, has thus become a victim and cannon fodder in this high stake and deadly game to promote hatred and extremism in order to keep Balochistan under the grip of the security establishment which has found the challenge of fighting the insurgents rather daunting in the last six years.
Several reports have surfaced about the direct connection of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence in international terror plots.
In July, 2011, journalist Syed Saleem Shahzad disappeared and his mutilated body was found bearing horrendous injuries. Saleem Shahzad had reported on the possible link between the Pakistan navy and al Qaeda. It is believed that he was picked up by the ISI in order to find his source of information. The United States of America later openly accused the ISI of involvement in his torture and death. The government of Pakistan referred to the allegations as an ‘international conspiracy to defame the country’s law enforcement agencies”. The US backed up their claim by saying that it was the result of new classified intelligence.
Mr. Umer Cheema, a senior journalist at The News International, a daily newspaper based in Islamabad, was kidnapped, tortured and humiliated for six hours on September 4, 2010. He was picked up in cloak-and-dagger style in the early hours by men in commando uniforms and driven to a “safe house”. Here unknown persons took over; he was beaten black and blue, humiliated beyond comprehension, he was made to strip off his clothes, hung upside down and remained in illegal custody for hours. Finally, he was thrown out on the roadside at Talagang, 120 kilometres from Islamabad with a shaved head and a threatening message for Ansar Abbasi, the head of the newspaper’s investigative section. In the murder of journalist Hyatullah Khan, a judicial commission was formed which came out with the opinion that the secret agencies of the military were involved (again, fingers were pointed at the ISI), however, the government has not made the report public and when Khan’s widow began to pursue the case she was also murdered and the ISI was given immunity.
Following the case of the assassination attempt on Hamid Mir, PM Nawaz Sharif himself sided with Mir and visited him in the hospital. In a quick reaction the Chief of Army Staff visited the ISI headquarters and showed his solidarity with the chief of the agency. This created a rift between the civilian and military establishments.
The ISI quickly organised religious, militant and banned terrorist organisations to come out and agitate in its favour. They also organised the media houses that were not in favour of those that had criticised the ISI.
It is no secret for the citizens of Pakistan that the ISI is involved in the local politics and knows exactly how to deal with the opponents. The military establishment and the government too, do not provide any logic behind the continuation of the existence of the ISI on the exchequer. However, they constantly wheel out the theory that behind the suicide bombings, terrorist attacks of the Taliban, the insurgencies in Balochistan and Sindh, there are foreign hands, particularly those of India and the USA.
If for a moment we agree to this notion of a foreign conspiracy and their involvement in Pakistan’s internal affairs then it means that our intelligence agencies, particularly the ISI has failed to perform its real task to protect the interests of the country.
It is evident that the ISI was always opposed to civilian rule and involved in purchasing the loyalties of politicians through coercion, intimidation, black mail and overt threats to kill them. The agency has always remained as a partner in the growing corruption, particularly in the big foreign dealings of arms and ammunition and also land grabbing. Its agenda is to control, not only domestic issues, but also foreign policy. The Secretary of the Ministry of Defence cannot be appointed without clearance from the ISI and the secretary must be selected from among the retired generals.
Once, when the former PM, Yousuf Gillani, tried to put the ISI under the Ministry of Interior Affairs, the military establishment became very angry and used all its cronies, the banned terrorist organisations, the media houses and opposition parties to agitate against the decision. Finally the ISI succeeded and it was released from any civilian oversight.
This time it has again clashed horns with the journalists, their organisations and a popular media house to punish them for open discussions on the role of ISI. It will be interesting to see who will win.
It is inconceivable for the military mindset that if they won the war against media then still it would be difficult to defeat the power of the pen with arms and ammunition. For an army which has never won once in five wars over a period of 65 years the media will become their Waterloo.